Happy Thanksgiving!

I’ll keep today’s post short so that you don’t have to spend too much time away from all of the delicious food and, more importantly, away from family and friends.  =)

So often on Thanksgiving, we sit down and thank God for the really “big” things that stand out to us.  But we should also praise Him for the “small” things He does in our life that are just as big.

I was encouraged several months ago to make a “Gratitude List,” and to write down EVERYTHING that I was thankful for.  Everything.

I thought it would be hard at first, but once I got rolling, the list quickly neared 100 items… then 150…. then 200, and I still consider it unfinished.  The more I learn, the more I have to be thankful for.

I hope you take a bit of time today to start your own gratitude list.  You can’t always rattle 100+ things off at the dinner table (I usually get cut off every year because my turn is running a little long), but God has more than enough time to listen to you give Him praise for all of the things that He has done.

Here’s a little sneak peek at my gratitude list:

1.) my relationship with my amazing, beautiful, incredible, holy, eternal God

2.) flowers

3.) beauty

4.) piano

5.) clean water

5.) the ability to wake up in the morning and not have to worry about IF I’ll be eating

6.) support

7.) contentment

8.) learning from my pain and my mistakes

9.) those really, really, REALLY tiny seashells that are so small that you can barely see them on your pinky finger.

10.) the way little kids are fascinated with the most random things

When I think about why I’m grateful for each of those things on my list, it pretty much boils down to the fact that my God is amazing.  He is loving and He is in control.  He is creative and He is just.  He is all-knowing and He is all-present.  He is God, and I have so much to thank Him for.

Weakness

There’s a verse in the Bible that says that God’s power is made strong in weakness.  Shortly afterward, the author of the book (2 Corinthians), cheerfully announces that he is strong when he is weak.

For quite some time, these verses frustrated me, because that makes no logical sense.  If you’re weak, you’re weak, right?  And if you’re strong, you’re strong.  How can you be both at the same time?!

In my case, God chose to take a hands-on lesson with this one.

I believe I’d had the mentality that I was just this really awesome person crediting God.  So I’m walking down the street, being good and things like that, and people are thinking “Wow, you’re doing great!” and I respond, “Oh, it’s all God!”

The problem with this mentality is that it makes it seem as though I am the one who made myself strong, or good, or faithful, or that I taught myself that really difficult lesson, when actually quite the contrary occurs.  I am the student, not the Teacher.  I am the servant, not the Master.  God’s participation in the entire ordeal is so much more than just a flippant “Oh yeah, and God helped!”

Instead, God brought me to a time when I was weak, when I was hurting, when I was confused… but I still had responsibilities going on.  I couldn’t just drop everything and wait until I “made myself” awesome/cool/good/helpful again.  I was weak.  But God is always, always strong.

1 Corinthians 1:25 says that God’s weakness is stronger than man’s strength.  So imagine the contrast between my weakness and His strength.  It’s rather great.

What I learned here is that when you’re weak, when you’re empty- that’s the greatest opportunity for God to show His strength, which, as stated before, is much more powerful than our strength, let alone our weakness.

So when I’m struggling through the week, when I’m crying ,when I’m hurting, when I’m weak, God is filling me up and radiating His strength through me.  And there’s no way I can claim that it’s my doing.

That being said, I don’t think we’re called to be in a constant state of deep pain and desperation.  I don’t believe God’s constantly beating us down so He can feel cool.  He is a loving and just God, after all.  But when we are in those times of weakness, we learn several things (though this list is not exhaustive).  We learn to trust.  We learn to be patient.  We learn to persevere.  But quite importantly, we learn humility.

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 
 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 
And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!

“Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

What happened when the Son of God humbled Himself?  Basically, God used Him to save the world.  He “made Himself nothing,” and He lovingly saved an undeserving world.

May our attitudes be the same as His, that God may radiate His strength through us.

Good Morning!

Everybody wakes up a little bit differently.  Some (I’m assuming very few) jump out of bed, landing with both feet on the ground, PUMPED for the new day.  Others of us get out of bed “gradually,” meaning very slowly, over a period of about an hour.  Still others hit snooze once or twice and then get up to face their day.

But one thing we all share is a first thought of the morning.  I think mine may most often be something like “blehhhh.”  Or “WHY was I up that late?”  Or “oh no, today’s the day that I have this big exam.”  I also almost always wake up with a song in my head.  This morning, it was O, The Wonderful Cross.  It’s not always a hymn, though- I think the day before it was an a cappella version of “Keep Holding On.”

I think it’s safe to say that whatever happens the night before you wake up will influence what you think.  For example, both of those songs were in my head most likely because I had listened to (and sung along with) them the night before.  If I wake up feeling extremely tired, it’s likely because I didn’t go to sleep at a reasonable time, and I’m quite aware of that as I struggle to open my eyes.

But lately, I’ve gone to bed feeling really excited.  Technically, there really isn’t anything to be excited about.  School is challenging, I’m really busy, I get frustrated- but I still often go to sleep excited.

I’m excited because I can’t wait to see what God is going to do with this new day.  He’s been gradually teaching me to relinquish my attempt at control over my life, mainly by completely ruining or changing my plans so that I have no way of controlling them anymore.  This could be a cause for great anxiety, but it’s more exciting than anything because He does it so much better!

Every second of the day that I’ll be struggling to open my eyes to begin tomorrow morning is in God’s hands.  There will never be an “Oops!” moment where He suddenly realizes that He forgot to do something, where the world will go spinning out of control, or where He decides that He doesn’t love me anymore.  He knows what’s going on with every breath I take, every move I make, every hair on my head.

“This is the day the Lord has made,” the psalmist tells us in Psalm 118.  “Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  The word “rejoice,” in my opinion, really ought to have little music notes and stars dancing around it.  Rejoice!  We’re told.  Give thanks!  Give praise!  Be glad!  Earlier in that same Psalm, we’re repeatedly told, and encouraged to say, that the Lord’s love endures forever.  We can rejoice and rest in His love forever– His love shall not fade, but endure.

Now, as I mentioned before, I don’t wake up with a montage of an exciting song against my suddenly opening my eyes, getting dressed (choosing several different outfits and finally settling on one, in which I dance in front of the mirror), grabbing my already-packed bag, and jogging excitedly out the door.

Instead, the music is my alarm going off repeatedly, and me slowly opening my eyes, shuffling out of bed, throwing some things into my bag, and jogging hurriedly out the door.  BUT, while I’m still lying in bed, somewhere in between “Ughh” and “I guess I’d better get up now,”  I can catch a glimpse of a little decoration hanging nearby that reads “Rejoice, for this is the day the Lord hath made,” and get a little excited, and more importantly, a little joyous.  And then I can confidently say, “Lord, I give this day to You.”

This isn’t to say that I always do that, but when I do, it definitely puts the right spin on my day and encourages me immensely.  I think I’m going to put a little sticky note with the Psalm 118 verse next to my alarm clock.  I think the best way to face the reality of another day of classes, another day at work, another day of pain, even, is to face the reality that we can rejoice, because we are in God’s hands, and He loves us.

A really wonderful wake-up song is “This Day,” by Audio Adrenaline.  I’ll post the lyrics a little bit later, but definitely take a look.  And let me know how you wake up and focus your day on Christ!  And I pray that your day is a great one!

UPDATE: Here’s a link to a site with the lyrics to “This Day,” by Audio Adrenaline (you can also listen to a little clip of the song!): http://www.jesusfreakhideout.com/lyrics/new/track.asp?track_id=13

Simplicity

I often think my life is complicated, for a variety of reasons, so I’m constantly trying to mentally sort through my agenda, my reactions, my responsibilities, and the hundreds of other things whizzing around my head.

I recently realized that I also combat this by living vicariously through a small animated character that hangs out on my e-mail theme. His life is so simple.  He’s adorable, and he’s productive, but he’s simple.  I don’t see things coming in and tossing his world around.  He doesn’t seem like the type of guy whose plans for the day would involve trying to figure out the next part of his life or coping with a particular hardship.

But in a way, my life is simple, too.

“[Christ] is before all things, and in Him all things hold together,” a verse in Colossians 1 says.

Simple as that.  If we’re in Christ, we’ll hold together.

The only reason this isn’t incredibly simple is because of a cosmic battle.  We may be in Christ, but right now, He is perfect, and we are not.  This being so, conflict, pain, and confusion ensue.  Our sinful nature fights our spiritual nature.  We fail.  We make tough decisions.  We make bad decisions.  We’re scared, torn, doubtful- we fall apart.

But, as in any epic fight, there is a victor.  A battle to the death between two fighters will end with one fighter as a victor, the other fighter as the victor, or death as the victor.  We may be struggling now, but we, my friends, already know who the victor is, and if we are in Christ, we are on the winner’s side.

This technically makes things right now seem no less complicated, but it does give us HOPE in several ways.

First, we’re assured that Christ is indeed the victor.  God’s people have been promised for a long time that a victor was coming (“He will crush your head,” God warned Satan) and that the victor is Christ- “If anybody does sin [which we all do], we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world,” 1 John said, later saying, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

Second, we’re reminded that He isn’t just sitting idly by.  “Perfect love drives out fear,” we’re told.  We may be struggling, but we may also be comforted.

Third, we’re reminded that we can do things too.  We’re not called to just dwell in our sin and conflict- we’re called to “press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of [us],” to become more like the One we love because He first loved us.

Fourth, we’re encouraged that, in the long run, things are indeed simple.

One of my favorite Relient K songs uses C.S. Lewis’ metaphor of a wintery Narnia, pre-redemption, in their song “In Like a Lion (Always Winter).”  They sing, “When it’s always winter, but never Christmas, sometimes it feels like You’re not with us, but deep inside our hearts we know, that You are here and we will not lose hope.”

I’ll leave you with this image from Revelation of what we can hope for- this image of the time, the eternity when Christ is the victor and everyone undeniably knows it, when every knee has bowed and every tongue confessed that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father, in whom we rest- “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.”